By mid March, things were going pretty well in regards to my physical rehabilitation. I was wearing the splint on my left arm at night while I slept, so during the day, I could go to places like the gym, shopping, restaurants, and appointments. My strength, balance, and confidence were all increasing. I no longer worried about falling or having things stolen from me in public. The world was a place I was starting to feel like exploring, as opposed to a place where I ventured out to when necessary then retreated back to safety. This was a vital step in the quest to recover my life.
Along with the need to conquer my spatial existence was a desire to get a handle on my economic situation. The people in the Chateau business office had informed me that I would eventually be charged over a thousand dollars per month to live there, but a bill had not been generated yet. Either insurance or Hennepin County would pay the majority of the bill for my room and board, but the thousand dollars or so would be my responsibility. All housing, food, and medical treatment was being handled. Furthermore, Mary had food and shelter, and her health plan was being debited from my checking account each month. So my two economic priorities became keeping my cellphone bill paid and saving money to move out of Chateau.
I had only paid about four hundred dollars a month everywhere I lived since I had moved back to Minnesota This had been with friends, so I couldn’t expect this sort of deal everywhere. I figured that I would have to pay seven or eight hundred a month for a worst-case scenario. So I decided that I should have around two-thousand dollars to move out at the start of any given month. That way I would have rent and security deposit, plus a few hundred dollars for the remainder of the month. This would allow Mary and me not to be homeless if push came to shove.
My services waiver through Hennepin County gave me Meals on Wheels and a Metro Transit Go-To Card. All I had to pay for was Mary’s food and health plan, my gym membership, phone, and half of my food. I could manage that for a year with a small part-time income. So the next thing I did was ask how much it would be to pay off the purchase price of my phone to Sprint. It was under three hundred dollars, so I paid it off right away. This brought my monthly cellphone bill down to under ninety dollars – an amount I could much more easily afford. The next day, I asked the Chateau business office whether a bill had been generated for my stay. It hadn’t, so I paid off my case and wireless charger. This brought the bill below eighty dollars.
I was going to the gym regularly. However I was still tired during my workouts. In fact, I was lethargic most mornings. The first thing I had tried to combat this was going to the gym right after breakfast. This helped a little, as I was able to get to breakfast on time most days afterwards. Nonetheless, I was still groggy by the time I was dropped off at Planet Fitness. Since I was already drinking coffee with my breakfast, I didn’t suspect that more caffeine was the answer, either.
One morning the bus dropped me off early at Planet Fitness. While checking in, I noticed a flier for the upgraded Black Card membership. I took one and went about doing my workout. This usually consisted of two upper body movements and one lower body movement. One exercise I had begun doing at this branch was a seated lat row. I would use my right hand to pull the handles of the machine to me. Then I would extend my left handle and grasp the handle. I would slowly pull the handle toward me, then push the weight away from me. Although this was a back exercise, I would concentrate on trying to feel my triceps working.
I would partner this with a modified seated triceps curl. My arm and shoulder were too stiff to maneuver into position while seated, so I would have to stand with my knees bent in order to perform some semblance of the exercise. I would begin with my fist gripping the bar near my shoulder, then push it downward towards a 180° angle. Usually I could extend my arm to about 110° or so.
I would have been very discouraged by how little my triceps seemed to be working had it not been for my weekly trips to Target. When I had first begun going, I’d had to use a motorized shopping cart, with only my right hand to steer because I could not extend my left hand enough to reach the handlebars. After engaging in continuous triceps workouts, I was slowly able to use both hands while driving. I almost cried the first time I sat down on the cart and was able to reach out and grasp the handlebar with my unaided left hand. It helped me to realize that with exercise, incremental changes would come, even if they seemed too miniscule to notice.
I would always save my leg exercises until last, because legs were the largest muscle group. On most days, I would attempt to do squats. I could only hold the bar behind my head with one hand, so while I loved doing squats, I worried about my unbalanced form. It could possibly lead to a back injury – and the last thing I needed was an injury that might delay my rehabilitation. So instead I would often substitute leg press for the lower body portion of my workout.
Leg press was a challenging exercise, but I really wanted to be able to perform squats at the end of every workout. I surmised that nothing would be better for my balance, posture, and breath support. Doing squats without adding weights could incorporate enough muscle groups to give the body a quality workout, so it seemed imperative if I was ever to walk normally again. Perform squats safely would mean using two hands to hold the bar.
I couldn’t voluntarily raise my left hand above my head. I could get it to shoulder height with the fist facing forward, but I could not rotate my arms so that my arms formed a U around my head. This was the problem stopping me from doing proper squats as well as any shoulder exercises. I tried various stretches so that I could tolerate the arm being moved into position by someone else. I began watching TV with my left arm across the back of the couch. I also tried stretching with my cane across my upper back, the way a baseball player loosens up for an at-bat. Several times each day, I would stretch my shoulder, planning to one day to using my left hand to do squats.
After about a week, I decided to try doing two-handed squats again. I lifted my left hand up and over the bar. Although I was able to get my hand high enough, it was still clenched in a fist. I pried my left hand open with my right hand and looped my thumb under the bar. Now my left hand was in position, but my body was twisted facing it. I now straightened my body and reached out with my right hand. My arms were now in place, but my body was still turned slightly to the right. I definitely would have wrenched my back had I tried squatting from this position.
Dejected, I worked my left arm loose, and performed the squats with one arm. I would have to do my squats without the benefit of my left hand for the next few weeks. In addition to the stretches I was doing at home, I decided that it was necessary to added a weightlifting exercise to loosen my arm more. For this I used the fly machine. Instead of using both hands to develop my pecs, I used my left arm to swing the weights inward and outward. I started with 30 pounds. Each time hurt quite a bit, but after the first two sets, I moved it up by five pounds. Over the next few weeks, I would gradually move up to 70 pounds. I tried to enjoy the fact that I was increasing in strength and in flexibility from my shoulder to my hand. Eventually I would try doing squats with both hands again.
I was looking for chances to get out more often by this time. The first year I had been back in Minneapolis had been very difficult for going out. It was only the second year of my recovery, I was still relatively weak and unstable. In those days I had been preoccupied with not falling when I answered the door for delivery drivers. Going out was fraught with even more peril. I worried about going up and down the steps. Once I made it safely to my destination, I would already be exhausted. Going out had been important for my continued recovery, but it just wasn’t that fun.
Now I had been lifting weights again for ten months. I had much more energy and greater balance. So when my friend Manny sent out an e-mail offering a ticket to the opening day soccer match for the Minnesota United, I made sure that I was the first one to respond. Manny let me know that the ticket was mine and told me that he would pick me up two hours before kickoff.
The match was on a sunny but chilly St. Paddy’s Day. Since the team is playing on the University of Minnesota campus, it’s virtually impossible to find parking nearby. Manny dropped me off at the stadium so he could search for an empty space. I stepped up onto the curb easily and walked over to sit on one of the stones that was shaped like a bench. It took Manny a while to return, so I had time to contemplate how comfortable I felt in my surroundings. Before, I would have worried about tripping on the curb, falling off a seat with no back, or being left alone for so long. But now I could have sat there for an hour.
After what seemed like a half hour, Manny came walking up. To prevent me having to stand in a line that had grown exponentially since he’d dropped me off, Manny located the handicapped entrance. We wove through several lines until we arrived at it, but there was only one patron in front of us, so we were through in no time.
After we were through the line, we were presented with a long flight of steps to the top of the lower section. Manny suggested that we find the elevators instead. It was a labyrinthine journey beneath the stadium to find them. Once we found the elevators, I saw that they were being operated by people in wheelchairs. It occurred to me that I could probably find a part-time position with an organization that placed a priority on hiring applicants with physical disabilities.
The elevator let us out right in front of a souvenir shop. I had expected the t-shirts to be overpriced, but they were over thirty dollars – twice the amount of a regular t-shirt. Instead I purchased a lanyard. Although I already owned one lanyard for my keys, I could use this on exclusively for my padlock keys. While I was living at Chateau, it would be the only one I needed to wear: one to unlock my closet; one to store my things at the gym.
Our seats were in the supporters’ section, behind the end zone on the far side of the stadium. So we had to walk a good half mile, ducking and dodging other patrons who were often not paying attention where they were going. By the time we got to our seats, I felt exhilarated. I hadn’t thought once about falling, a collision, or simply being too exhausted to make it.
Once the ball was kicked off, I had a frustratingly difficult time following the action because my eyes were struggling to work in concert. For a time, I even shut one eye to make tracking easier. After a few minutes of this, I decided to open both eyes and focus on following the ball. This was hard at first, but before long, I always could tell where the ball was. Now watching the actions of the players became easier too. Soon I was just another United fan enjoying a home win over Chicago.
At halftime, Manny and I walked down the steps so we could take pictures in the sunlight. Once the match was over, we walked back through the stadium through another crowd of inattentive kids and plaintive fathers. Manny went to get the car while I waited for him on a stone bench. In the half hour it took him to drive back to the stadium, I kept smiling at how easy it was becoming to move through the world.